The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) plans to open its Summer 2021 programme with an outdoor production of The Comedy of Errors, directed by Phillip Breen. The play will be performed in the Lydia & Manfred Gorvy Garden Theatre, a specially constructed performance space next to the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, UK.
The play will run in the Garden Theatre from 13 July to 26 September 2021, then tour to partner theatres around the UK, including The Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury from 27-30 October 2021.
RSC was due to begin performances of The Comedy of Errors and The Winter’s Tale in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Spring 2020 – they were preparing to open when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.
The Winter’s Tale, directed by Erica Whyman, RSC deputy artistic director, will now be broadcast on BBC Four on 25 April 2021 as part of BBC Lights Up, a season of plays for BBC TV and radio, produced in partnership with theatres across the UK and continuing BBC Arts’ Culture in Quarantine initiative. A BSL signed version of the production will be broadcast on 29 April 2021. Both versions will subsequently be available on iPlayer. The RSC will also stream the production to subscribers, members and patrons based outside the UK following the BBC broadcast. The stream will be available for 24 hours on 25 April 2021 at 21:00 BST and on 8 May 2021 at 18:00 BST.
“As nations all over the world emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the UK theatre industry prepares to welcome in-person audiences, the RSC is re-opening by sharing our work in new, creative and surprising ways,” said Gregory Doran, artistic director of the RSC. “We want to respond to our changing world and the needs of our audiences with performances and experiences outdoors and online – opening up our rehearsal rooms for the first time. By creating an outdoor theatre space for The Comedy of Errors, we hope audiences will feel safe to return to the theatre with confidence. Our buildings will gradually come back to life during the summer through our café and restaurant, and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre will be ready for indoor performances in the autumn.”
The RSC also announced that for the first time in its history, audiences will be invited inside the full rehearsal process for three weeks, culminating in a complete rehearsal room performance of Henry VI Part One, broadcast online on 23 June 2021. Running from 1-25 June 2021, the Henry VI Part One; Open Rehearsal Project will see directors Doran and Owen Horsley re-unite to reinvent the Henry VI plays.
The three Henry VI plays were originally due to be presented in the Swan Theatre from 10 October 2020 to 2 January 2021 by a single company of actors across two performances, but were postponed due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic.
“The last year has taught us many things and we know that we can reach new audiences around the world through our work online,” Doran continued. “We want to build on this by inviting the public to join our rehearsal process for the first time and working in collaboration with the BBC to adapt The Winter’s Tale specifically for the screen. We know there is an appetite from those who can’t join us in Stratford, and we want to welcome them to the RSC.”
Meanwhile, the RSC has planned a Summer of Reconnection to celebrate the creativity and resilience of the Royal Shakespeare Community, which incorporates 1,000 schools, 1,500 adults and more than half a million young people across the UK. The initiative creates opportunities for people of all ages to make and share Shakespeare’s work.
There will be a week-long online celebration of playmaking from 5 July 2021, featuring 20 original digital commissions involving 600 young people aged five to 18 from the RSC’s national Associate Schools network and adults from the Shakespeare Nation community programme. Wraparound activities will include online workshops and creative challenges.
The RSC’s Next Generation ACT company will resume in-person performances on 23 July 2021 with All Mirth and No Matter, a fusion of new writing and Shakespeare’s text. The production will run in the Garden Theatre for two public performances following a week-long rehearsal residency in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Meanwhile, the RSC will continue its educational work, and also plans a series of free family activities on the Bancroft Terrace and across the newly installed Garden Theatre from 27 July to 20 August 2021. These will include pop-up performances, interactive workshops and outdoor performances.
“Throughout the pandemic we have continued to support and work alongside the thousands of young people and adults in the RSC community,” said Doran. “Arts and culture are vital to help people to reconnect after lockdown, and our work continues across the UK with our partner theatres to support the recovery of our towns and cities. Many of those young people will join us at our Playmaking Festival, on our Garden Theatre stage and in their classrooms for the Live Schools’ Broadcast of Macbeth. As our thoughts turn to new beginnings, we cannot wait to work again with our freelance colleagues and to welcome audiences back to the place where, for so many, their love of live theatre first began.”
In terms of other facilities, the Riverside Cafe has resumed its takeaway service, a Rocket ice cream van will be located at the front of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre on selected days throughout the Summer, and from 13 July, in line with government guidelines, the Rooftop Restaurant is to re-open its doors with a reduced menu. The restaurant will operate with reduced capacity so pre-booking is essential. A picnic offer will be available to purchase via click and collect, as well as pre-theatre and interval drinks via a new online ordering service for Garden Theatre audiences.